The 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act defines inclusive education as ‘a system of education wherein students with and without disability learn together and the system of teaching and learning is suitably adapted to meet the learning needs of different types of students with disabilities’. Despite a mandatory requirement to notify the national rule and endorse the definition, most states have not yet done so. Existing legislation at state level limits inclusive education to the education of persons with disabilities.
Special education needs
Explicit definitions of special education needs exist at national or state levels. The RPWD Act refers to a ‘person with benchmark disability’ to indicate a ‘person with not less than forty per cent of a specified disability where specified disability has not been defined in measurable terms and includes a person with disability where specified disability has been defined in measurable terms, as certified by the certifying authority’ (Art. 2[r]).
As established by the RPWD Act, children with benchmark disability between the age of 6 and 18 years can receive free education in a neighborhood school or special school of their choice (Chapter VI, Sec. 31). Children with severe and multiple disabilities may receive home-based education, as regulated in the 2009 Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act). Children with disabilities can also access education and take examinations through the National Institute of Open Schooling, including vocational education and training. Children with multiple and/or severe disabilities can opt for home-based education, as established by the 2012 Amendment Act to the RTE Act.
Only 61% of children with disabilities aged between 5 and 19 were attending an educational institution according to the 2011 Census of India. 6-14 year-old children attending special schools were 173,599, out of whom 44% were girls. The number of children and youth enrolled at special schools decreased after the age of 14. Between 2009 and 2015, many children with disabilities attended the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) - a school board provising flexible learning. At NIOS, the enrolment of students with locomotor and visual impairments has decreased over the years; by contrast, that of children and youth with multiple disabilities has grown. Home education is also an option. Data from the Unified District Information System for Education indicates that 138,133 children were enrolled in home-based education in the 2009/10 academic year, with great differences across states.
To encourage the access of children and youth with disabilities to regular schools, the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have developed a roadmap to implement residential bridge courses.
In 1992, the MHRD Programme of Action for the 1986 National Policy on Education, while promoting integrated education, suggested a pragmatic placement principle for children with special education needs, establishing that learners with disabilities who could follow the national curriculum should be educated in regular schools. Learners enrolled in special schools should thus be transferred to regular schools when ready to make the shift.
The 2009 RTE Act defines a comprehensive framework in terms of education quality. However, education provision varies according to institutions’ resources. Many government schools target specific groups and also provide boarding facilities, such as Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalaya schools for girls, tribal ashram schools and Eklavya Model Residential Schools for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, and hostels for Dalits. Multi-grade education provision is a common practice in rural areas.
As stipulated in the 1949 Constitution, amended in 2015, minority groups have the right to establish and administer their own educational institutions (Art. 30). These can take several forms, from private schools to intensive faith-based institutions. The latter include Muslim madrasa, Buddhist monastic and Hindu gurukul schools. Within the MRHD’s national Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas, madrasa schools receive national grants. Similar schemes are in place at the state level, for instance in Maharashtra and in Uttar Pradesh. Other religious schools providing faith-based instruction are regulated by the respective faith-based authority, for example the Muslim Waqf Board. A separate Vedic Board has been proposed for Vedic education.
The 1949 Constitution, as amended in 2015, mandates the provision of ‘free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years’ (Art. 21A). It further prohibits discrimination in access to education ‘on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them’ (Art. 29.2). The 2009 RTE Act laid down the right of all children, including learners with disabilities, to attend schools until the age of 14 (Art. 3). Special protection is provided to disadvantaged groups and children belonging to ‘weaker sections’. The former term refers to children with disabilities, children belonging to Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes, those from socially and educationally backward classes or children who experience social, cultural, economic, geographical, linguistic, gender or other disadvantage (Art. 2[d]). Children belonging to ‘weaker sections’ also include those whose parents or guardians’ annual income is lower than the minimum notified by law (Art. 2[e]).
In terms of policy, the 1986 National Policy on Education, as revised in 1992, does not contain inclusive education provisions. Programmatic provisions for inclusive education are instead contained in Samagra Shiksha, India’s national flagship scheme for school education, which is complemented by state-specific schemes. Informed by the principle of equity, Samagra Shiksha is targeted at disadvantaged groups, such as persons from Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Muslim minorities, landless agricultural workers, children with special needs and transgender children. These groups can claim the opportunity to learn in an inclusive environment, without discrimination.
With the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007, India partially reviewed national legislation to comply with its provisions. However, the 2009 RTE Act, as amended in 2012, still does not include any specific provisions in relation to rights and entitlements of children with disabilities and/or with special education needs.
The 2016 RPWD Act protects and promotes the rights and interests of persons with disabilities and domesticates the provisions of the CRPD in the national legal system. It states that all education institutions funded or recognized by local authorities are mandated to provide inclusive education to children with disabilities by admitting them without discrimination, ensuring infrastructure accessibility and reasonable accommodation, and providing necessary individualized support and transportation services (Art. 16). Its implementation has been guaranteed through the development of specific guidelines, including on barrier-free accessibility.
Although the practice is prescribed in the 2016 RPWD Act, only four states have appointed an officer in the district education office responsible for ensuring the admission of children with disabilities, and only half of states have started issuing disability certificates according to new disability criteria defined in the act. Inclusive practices have been implemented in the form of early intervention for children with disabilities, setting up a State Resource Centre for Inclusive Education, for example in Tamil Nadu, ensuring transportation for children and their parents in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, and representing parents of learners with disabilities in the school management committees in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.
The 2003 National Charter of Children protects the rights and interests of children with disabilities (para 19), but without a specific provision on education (para 7), while the 2006 National Policy for Persons with Disabilities commits to enhancing inclusion in education of the target group. Adopted after the ratification of the CRPD, the 2013 National Policy for Children lays emphasis on the provision of affordable, accessible and equitable access to quality education for all children. The National Plan of Action for Children followed in 2016, setting strategic objectives and indicators for the education of children with disabilities by 2021. Among its priority actions, the action plan intended to implement the 2009 RTE Act provisions, including ensuring access to primary schools with adequate physical infrastructure, providing inclusive services to children with disabilities in regular schools and guaranteeing available qualified teachers.
Specific policy recommendations on the education of children with disabilities and on inclusive education are also included in Samagra Shiksha. Several states have developed their own state policies on education (e.g. Karnataka) or included dimensions of education in their policies on persons with disabilities (e.g. Bihar).
Gender equality is a principle enshrined in the 1949 Constitution, as amended in 2016. Gender discrimination is addressed both in the 2009 RTE Act and in the 2019 draft National Education Policy. The latter considers gender concerns as a cross-cutting issue and recommends setting up a Gender Inclusion Fund with emphasis on the education of girls and transgender children. States devote particular attention to women’s education, such as in the 2016 Karnataka State Education Policy and the 2008 Gujarat State Policy for Gender Equity.
The 2001 National Policy for Empowerment of Women reaffirmed the right to equal access to education for women and girls and regulated the adoption of special measures to eliminate discrimination, universalize education and eradicate illiteracy, create a gender-sensitive educational system, increase enrolment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education. The new 2016 National Policy for Women seeks to promote skill development, vocational training and life skills as part of the secondary school curriculum for adolescent women and girls and addresses barriers to girls’ entry into STEM education.
Targeted financial initiatives, such as the Balika Samridhi Yojana, exist at the national level in the form of conditional cash transfers to households and free provision of textbooks, uniforms and hot meals. At the state level, Karnataka makes education free for all girls from Class 1 to graduation in all state and government-aided education institutions. The Cycle programme, initiated in Bihar, has been extended to Gujarat, Karnataka, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and then mainstreamed as part of Samagra Shiksha.
In terms of provision of residential schooling facilities, the national Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas are intended to provide upper primary education facilities to support girls belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minority communities and families below the poverty line in educationally backward blocks or in areas where the female literacy rate is below the national average. The programme has been recently extended to Grade 12. Likewise, the 2008 Scheme for Construction and Running of Girls’ Hostels for students of secondary and higher secondary schools provides hostel facilities in schools.
As regards sexual minorities, a Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act was adopted in 2019, in the wake of the landmark 2014 case of National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Others, which recognized the rights of and granted protections to transgender people. The act prohibits discrimination against transgender persons in their admission to education and mandates state or central government-aided education institutions to provide inclusive education, sports and recreational facilities to transgender persons. The 2019 draft National Education Policy has, for the first time, explicitly mentioned transgender children in the policy document.
At the state level, Tamil Nadu state rules include transgender children among disadvantaged groups. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat have constituted welfare boards for transgender people to support them in their access to and participation in formal education.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The 2004 National Commission for Minority Educational Institution Act categorized a minority as a community, defined according to the central government, while a minority institution is an educational institution that is administered and set up by a minority group. Minority education institutions are exempt from the 2009 RTE Act by a Supreme Court order. Provisions for the education of minorities are also part of the Prime Minister’s 15 Points Programme for the Welfare of Minorities. Set by the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, the standards for minority institutions are expected to meet the standards of general education institutions. Student admission, staff recruitment and fee amounts cannot be regulated, and the regulations cannot otherwise impinge on the minority status of the institution.
People living in rural or remote areas
Although there is no statutory definition of what constitutes a remote area, some geographical areas are considered disadvantaged, such as aspirational districts and educationally backward blocks. The 2019 draft National Education Policy provides for the creation of special education zones in densely populated areas of underrepresented groups, with the aim to allocate additional funds.
Particular emphasis is laid on improving quality education in rural areas through national policies and programmes, for example Samagra Shiksha. Considerable efforts have been made with the 2009 RTE Act to expand the school network in rural areas by establishing that primary schools need to be located within 1 km of children’s residences. However, this maximization has been achieved through the creation of small and inadequate school infrastructure. To address this side effect, the central government, as of 2017, was actively rationalizing the existing educational resources. While primary education is ensured in most rural villages, school rationalization in rural remote areas has impacted school distance for secondary and higher education, and in particular for girls and for learners with disabilities.
The 2009 RTE Act devoted special attention to children who belong to poor households. It enshrined their right to access free primary education, which entails the provision of scholarships and free learning material. However, no similar provisions exist at early childhood or secondary education levels.
Other measures to support education include provision of residential instruction, either in the form of specific schools or provision of hostel facilities, as well as scholarships and distribution of uniforms, stationary, textbooks and other materials.
As of the 2011 Census, there were 453 million internal migrants in India, accounting for almost a third of the country’s population. All states are required to conduct and update household surveys to identify out-of-school children, such as for reasons of migration. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has issued guidelines to make education accessible in migrant areas. Besides providing a mid-day meal, free textbooks and free uniforms, Samagra Shiksha provides learners with hostels and residential camps in villages during the period of their families’ seasonal migrations and with residential and non-residential special training centres for out-of-school, dropout and migrant children.
Some states, such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, have developed mechanisms to track migrant children for interstate coordination to ensure continuity of education. Efforts have been made to facilitate their admission in destination areas or to implement bridging mechanisms to support transition. More recently, Karnataka drafted an education policy aimed at ensuring free and compulsory education to migrant learners and to children of migrant labourers. Among its objectives, it aims to strengthen the tracking system of migration by setting up a supervisory committee.
Other vulnerable groups
The 2013 National Policy for Children includes among the vulnerable groups street children, victims of alcohol and substance abuse and/or human trafficking, children residing in unstable areas, orphans, married children and children of prisoners, and it recognizes their right to be identified, rescued, rehabilitated and provided with education. However, at the state level, the definition of a disadvantaged child may differ. In Gujarat, for example, it also includes children in care, child labourers, children with disabilities and children affected with HIV. Bihar also lists children belonging to minorities. Maharashtra includes children from nomadic tribes and religious minority groups.
Education is a competence of both the states and the central government, which outlines the overarching national policy. The functions of the MHRD are mirrored at the state level by the State Education Department. Departments of other ministries also participate in education financing, such as the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
The 1986 National Policy on Education, as amended in 1992, foresaw the coordination of the various areas of human resource development in the field of education. The draft National Education Policy recommends entrusting this coordination to the National Education Commission.
At the central level, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has the responsibility to monitor the implementation of the 2009 RTE Act and to protect the rights of children. Other dedicated commissions, such as the Commission for the 2016 RPWD Act and the National Human Rights Commission, also address specific violations to education rights. The 2005 National Curriculum Framework calls for partnerships with non-government organizations. Such collaboration is also promoted for the provision of inclusive education.
A National Commission for Minorities was established under the National Commission for Minorities Act in 1992 to promote and protect the rights of religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zorastrians and Jains. Linguistic minorities are not included in its mandate. In 2004 the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act set up the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions to oversee minority educational institutions.
According to the decentralized administration model, Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies are primarily responsible for education at the community level and play an important role in improving access to school and enrolment of all children, including those with disabilities.
Horizontal coordination between departments is ensured through issue-based committees. Vertical coordination is ensured through the formal structure of the Central Advisory Board of Education, an advisory body acting at the central and state levels, and indirectly through the process of formulation of annual work plans for centrally sponsored schemes, such as Samagra Shiksha.
Infrastructure and services
The 2016 RPWD Act requests all public education institutions to provide reasonable accommodation and adequate accessibility. In 2015, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities launched a nationwide campaign to achieve universal accessibility for persons with disabilities, called the Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan).
School accessibility is ensured according to mandatory guidelines issued by the Ministry of Urban Development, such as the 2016 Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elderly Persons. Likewise, the Three Year Action Agenda 2017–18 to 2019–20 by the NITI Aavog, a public policy think tank of the Government of India, specifies that schools must have ramps and disabled-friendly toilets.
As part of the prescribed regulations contained in the 2009 RTE Act, free transportation facilities have been implemented in all states but Gujarat and Uttarakhand. However, only Karnataka and Kerala include provisions for reasonable accommodation.
The National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) develops curricula, textbooks and learning assessment processes at the national level and has been active as a think tank on pedagogic issues. NCERT has also developed curricular adaptations of materials for children with visual, hearing, cognitive and intellectual impairments for general teachers at primary and upper primary levels. The State Councils for Education Research and Training are mandated to play a similar function at the state level in line with the national frameworks, such as the National Curriculum Framework.
According to a child-centered model, the 2005 National Curriculum Framework recommends the adoption of curricular and pedagogical approaches to enhance learners’ participation in the learning process. The framework reiterates the need to empower girls and marginalized communities through the curriculum and to provide space for tribal traditions, knowledge and languages. Education of children with disabilities is mentioned but not mainstreamed across the document.
The 2016 RPWD Act mandates the state to provide free learning materials and appropriate assistive devices to students with disabilities up to the age of 18. Regional institutes of education and the National Book Trust of India have made a number of attempts to develop content and material in local dialects and tribal languages, including the development of dictionaries and reading materials. Concerning gender, the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production and Curriculum Research revised the textbooks for first and second grades to address portrayal of gender roles in textbooks.
Recognized by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), which is responsible for designing, delivering and regulating teacher education, the current pre-service teacher training course includes a module on education of children with special needs to train educators to identify and diagnose disability and provide them with a holistic perspective to deal with students’ diversity. As of 2019, the Rehabilitation Council of India, responsible for special education, together with the NCTE, recognized 60 and 15 different pre-service programmes, respectively, of different duration with a focus on the education of children with disabilities, including university programmes, diploma and certificate courses in special education and one advanced course in inclusive education.
Since 2014, all general teacher education programmes have included a course on inclusive education, as regulated by the 2009 National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education. Integrated in Samagra Shiksha, inclusive education as part of teacher training has been set forth by the Memorandum of understanding for cooperation signed in 2015 by the Rehabilitation Council of India and the NCTE with the aim of revising the minimum standards to offer disability-specific specialization in teacher education and train special educators to support inclusive practices.
In Bihar, two training modules, Ujala-III and Samarth, were developed in 2006 to sensitize in-service teachers of upper primary classes to integrated education, while Andhra Pradesh stipulates that all regular teachers must be trained to teach children with disabilities.
Support personnel for teachers are provided by cluster and block resource centres. Itinerant special educators, mostly trained to address one type of disability, also support schools throughout the country. The Central Board of Secondary Education mandates every school to appoint special educators and school counsellors. However, this does not always happen, partly because many schools fail to admit children with disabilities, as has been reported for schools in Delhi, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Specific gender studies have been introduced in the curriculum by the NCTE for Bachelor of Education and Diploma in Education programmes. However, many of India’s teachers remain untrained. Policies (e.g. the 2014 MHRD Guidelines on Safety and Security of Children) and programmatic steps (e.g. self-defense classes under Samagra Shiksha) have also been adopted to make schools safer for girls. At the state level, the 2008 Gujarat State Policy for Gender Equity introduced a special curriculum on gender in all professional teacher training courses addressing gender dimensions in in-service training.
Teacher recruitment includes specific quotas for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Muslims and women, while 3% of posts are reserved for persons with disability.
Each government level is responsible for collecting qualitative data. Local self-governance bodies and School Management Committees, with representation of marginalized groups and women, are expected to be involved in education monitoring. Information on formal education is provided by the Census of India, including the decennial census and National Sample Surveys, and by administrative datasets and sources, such as the U-DISE database, All-India School Education Surveys and the National Achievement Survey.
The management information system of the Ministry of Women and Child Development provides information on early childhood care and education. This information is supplemented by need-based supplementary studies, which provide figures on out-of-school children. These large national datasets are supplemented by ongoing mechanisms of collection of administrative data.
At the central level, data are collected on the Anganwadi centres, early childhood centres that also help with early identification of disabilities.
An Index for Developing Inclusive Schools has been developed by NCERT. However, its use is limited. Indicators to measure inclusive education are specific and focus on access and retention, disaggregated by demographic variables and disability status, on the quality of infrastructure and on the composition of the teaching force.
Shaala Sidhi, the MHRD’s Performance Grading Index, and the School Education Quality Index are among the metrics used to monitor the effectiveness of the education system. However, their focus on inclusive education is limited. NCERT’s PINDICS (Performance Indictors for Elementary Education) are used to monitor teacher competence.